10 questions to get ready for moving past the financial crisis

In my rough-and-ready barometer of where we are in dealing with the financial crisis, I note that #occupylsx has got people talking.  That’s great. Instead of mumbling into our beer, we are talking.  That’s a far cry from doing, of course.

Using the denial, anger, bargaining, depression, adjustment cycle, I reckon we are up to bargaining. We still believe we are going to make this go away.

When we do get around to adjusting and getting on with life, we are going to need to be well informed about what we can do and whom we can do it with.  If you intend to be around when we get round to sorting things out, these questions might help disentangle the issues.

What do you feel, and what do others feel about these issues?

#1 Are people in the UK angry?

#2 Are all people in the UK angry to the same degree?  And if not, who is more or less angry and what has led us to that opinion that our levels of anger differ?

#3 Is everyone who is angry, angry about the same things?  And with the same people?

#4 Who is angry with you and how do you feel that some people are angry with you?

#5 Who many people in the UK are of working age? How many people in the UK work in banks and the financial services?  How many people do you know who work in these industries?

#6 How much money does our government need each year to run the schools, the hospitals, the roads, the police, the fire service, the army, the navy, the airforce?

#7 How much money do the banks and financial services kick-in to the cost of running our government?

#8 What are the various things we could “do” to the banks?  Which three seem to be the most popular?

#9  When we “do” these things to the banks, what jobs will be created and which will be lost?  Who will be the winners and losers?

#10 When we “do” these things to the banks, what will be the amount they kick-in to the cost of running the government?  Will that be more or less and if it is less, how can we make up the shortfall?

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See the financial crisis as a chess game with 4 pieces

Since the Northern Rock crash, when was it, 2007? I’ve been using the Kubler Ross Grief Cycle to track where we are in dealing with the financial crisis.

Kubler Ross Grief Cycle and the Financial Crisis

  • Denial took a looooong time. We got Lehman’s  in 2008.  I think people have got it now.  We know we are trouble.
  • Anger started kicking in when? At first we were vaguely angry with Lehmans. Then we muttered when our own incomes were affected.  And possibly we took our anger on targets as various as local corner shop and politicians.
  • Bargaining is next . . . if I do this, then . . . then the problem is going to go away.  A well-educated experienced American knowledge entrepreneur over here in UK looking for backing put the mind-set well.  “Promises were made”.  “The middle-class were promised . . .”  That is what bargaining means. We think we can still make the problem go away and with very little effort at that.
  • Depression should follow in this rough order of psychological states.  We might have thought that Western countries have been depressed for a long time with most people “sleep walking” through life, nursing a hangover and waiting for early retirement.   So I am not looking forward to seeing what that looks like in a more severe form.  At the rate we are going, next year maybe?
  • Adjustment  . .  and eventually we get sick of being depressed so we get out of bed one morning and decide to get on with it.

Being positive in the face of the worst financial crisis

Being an impatient soul, I’ve kept an eye out for simple models that can help people Act, Do, & Get On With It.

On Al Jazeera today, there is a blog by Mohamed A. El-Erian is CEO and co-CIO of PIMCO, and author of When Markets Collide.

El-Erian finishes his article reassuring us that we

need not be paralysed by uncertainty and anxiety. Instead, we can use this simple framework to monitor developments, learn from them, and adapt. Yes, there will still be volatility, unusual strains, and historically odd outcomes. But, remember, a global paradigm shift implies a significant change in opportunities, and not just risks.

A framework for understanding how the financial crisis will unfold

So what is the framework?  El-Erian suggests that each country, or large community, will decide for itself what it will do about four things.  Each community will make a move. Then we will watch  how it goes (and what everyone else does).  And then we will make another move.

We don’t know the outcome of our collective actions in advance but we can think of this as a game of chess with four pieces each (instead of 6) and many many players (not just 2).

The four pieces at each community’s disposal

Deleveraging

We have overspent and “borrowed from the future”.  Whatever we cannot pay to the future, the future must write-off as a bad debt.  That’s the stark situation that we are in.

In a large community, we are going to divide up the bad debt between us.  The question is who should pay more and who should pay less.

Countries squabble at home about the formula for dividing up the debt, and the formula is important, but this squabble goes under a separate heading below.

First, the country as a whole must deleverage.  If we don’t take responsibility for our overspending (sins of the fathers visited on the sons etc), then our creditors will take charge of our assets.  This is called getting a bailout from the IMF.  If you have ever seen this in play, you don’t want to go there. Believe me.

Economic growth

OK, we got into debt because we were partying and spending more than we earn.  How are we going to earn more?

Sometimes the problem is structural. It is hard for me to get off my proverbial backside because I am locked into a system.  So what is locking down the energy in a country?  That is the question we ask.

Sadly sometimes, lack of growth is not economic. It is psychological. A tweet went the rounds this morning:  nothing will happen while we hope to become members of the billionaire club.  When the easy life is the focus, we ain’t going to be growing.  If our goal is early retirement – enough said?

So let’s hear from the economists. And while they have their arguments, the rest of us can focus relentlessly on what can be done and work with people who want to work.  And I mean focus relentlessly.  It is so easy to get distracted.

Social justice

Now the biggie.  Social justice has declined in the west. And there we were selling democracy to whoever would buy. So the Occupy movement use as their catch phrase: we are the 99%.

The real issue is still economic.  In my naïve economic take, the issue is how do we accumulate capital and what do we use it for?

When a government makes good free schooling available for a child from year 5 to year 16, we are investing our savings in that child.  And we expect a return. When they are older, not only will they join in sophisticated businesses that already exist, they will invent new businesses and keep the show on the road when we are old and are slowing down.  Education is just capital accumulation one person at a time.

Much of the problem in the west is that money has gone into partying at all levels.   Money accumulates were it isn’t doing the work of capital – by which I mean taking from the present to invest in the future.  We’ve been doing it backwards.  Leaving money doing very little while we borrow from the future to pay for today’s party.

The talk  is presently of who gets what. That is still partying.  We must put our shared capital where it can make a difference.  Education and health are no brainers.  We also have to look at all our assumptions about where we invest and why.  Simply, if you underpay a parent,  you are stripping them of capital. So don’t talk in the next breath talk about investing in early childhood education. You are frankly talking nonsense. Why not create the problem in the first place?  Personally, I’d look at all the laws that help keep workers insufficiently paid.  The simple test is could you run a household on the same income.  Could you?  If not you are running down the capital base of the country.

But the problem seems to be large and the real key seems to be to start to move forward somewhere.  The #occupy movement is people beginning to unravel the mess.  As El-Erain says, watch them. And don’t feel powerless. Make your choices.  Where ever Occupy ends, it is part of this piece on the board: Social Justice.

Leadership

The fourth piece that we have to play with is leadership.  We complain endlessly about our politicians. El-Erain doesn’t say much in his blog. Maybe he talks about them more in his book.

Personally, is suspect that our leaders are not the piece. It is our attitude to leaders that is the piece.  I believe our leaders reflect us. Maybe when people become more accustomed to being politically active, then we will get better leaders.  OK. You tell me.

So if you are impatient waiting for people to move through the grief cycle, try seeing the world as chequer board with 4 pieces and many many players.  Track the apparent confusion and perhaps we can see what is happening, what is going to happen and what we can help make happen.

Denial, anger, depression, bargaining, adjustment: put the banking crisis behind us

Ladies and gentlemen, where are we are the path of psychological recovery after learning, not only that our country is not only flat broke, but that our prosperity in the last ten years was a house built on sand?

Denial?

Anger?

Depression?

Bargaining?

Adjustment?

Denial about the banking crisis is over

I believe we are out of denial.  Do you agree?  Not everyone understands the extent of our financial woes, or the rate that they are getting worse, but we have grasped that when we wake up in the morning, the problem will still be with us.

Anger about the banking crisis . . . still with us?

Much of the citizenry is still very angry about the financial crisis.  We are still looking for someone to blame and somebody to hurt back in return for the hurt we have suffered?

Am I right so far?

Depression . . . the politicians are depressed about the crisis?

Politicians, to a man and woman, seem depressed about the crisis.  They are busy having meetings and telephone conference calls.  But by-and-large, they are being busy.  Of course, they are busy. They are ‘shaking the tree’ or in the parlance of a domestic household, looking down the sofa for small change to pay the rent.  That doesn’t put anyone in a good mood.  But their gloom is the result of more than penny-pinching and cash flow management.

Do you think they are acting with a positive sense of the future or just getting-by?

Bargaining  . . . what does bargaining look like?

What does bargaining look like anyway?  I don’t really know.

In other countries and other crises, I have seen people protest a country’s position ‘between a rock and a hard place’ by going on ‘fasts’ (not, hunger strikes, ‘fasts’ or ‘pacts with God’).  The country didn’t move forward very much but the fasters did get very slim and they learned to get up early in the morning.  I can say that for their methods.  Whether their lives improved in other ways, I doubt.  Unsurprisingly, they did very little work.  Their electronic diaries were pristine with the exception of their prayer schedules.

The secular equivalent of keeping one’s head down can be just as dangerous, by-the-way.   It normally involves being very busy doing-the-boss’-bidding while he or she sits out of harm’s way- a bit as Carne Ross described in talk at LSE this week on life as British diplomat.

Does satire play the role of bargaining?  Does laughing about ‘their idiocy’ without taking action not perform the same function of reducing emotional concerns without moving forward?  Resignation rather than adjustment which is really a form of bargaining?  If I laugh, then it will be alright?

Is writing this post a form of bargaining?  I guess it is.  I am being an observer of ‘them’.

Adjustment . . . is it possible?  Can we just adjust and get on with it?

If I don’t really understand bargaining (as much because we think this stage of recovery is a delaying tactic rather than useful), I do know what adjustment is going to mean.

Adjustment is accepting that we were all part of the mess and are all part of the mess.

Adjustment rests on a foundation of “who we are”.  Who are we loyal to?  Who is ‘me and mine’?  Until we really feel solidarity with each other and are willingly to form a new social compact based on that solidarity, then we aren’t going anywhere fast.  We will ‘lurching from church to school’.  I’ve no idea where the expression came from but it conveys the idea.

Our solutions will be in direct proportion to our solidarity.  While we hate each other, our solutions will be correspondingly mean and inadequate.

Getting to adjustment in a country that is in trouble

Getting to ‘adjustment’ when a country is severe trouble is a tough one.  The psychological key is our own good temper, or whatever kernel of good temper that we can find.

When we identify what we believe is good in Britain, when we can point to what is, rather than to what we want to be (usually through someone else’s efforts); until we believe the something is sufficiently good that we are willing to get out of bed to work on it, whether or not anyone else is working on it, we – I mean you, I mean me – are not going anywhere very fast.

The questions, to me, are three fold:

  • What is, right now, is so good that it fills me with awe?
  • What is, right now, that I can bounce out of bed to look after and nurture?
  • What am I willing to do right now, whether or not you support me or not, but which can include you if you want to be included?

Keeping my good temper intact

So here I am writing a post ‘about’ Britain – and in a way about what is wrong with Britain. Here I am apparently procrastinating and avoiding doing some work which has shards of pleasure and the sharp edges of tedium.

Am I being a hypocrite?  Or am I saying that I like to process the news and know what I think and feel?  Am I saying that I like to read between the lines and see the big events that might be affecting us all (the government is looking for small change down the sofa)?  Am I saying that I like to use the heuristics I have gathered over the years to think economically?  Am I saying that I think people like Carne Ross (apostate diplomat) are right?  Change in UK will not start in Whitehall. It will start at street-level with small matters, with whatever we care about executed, not an angry, contested manner (even when that is concealed under do-goodery), but in a respectful, collaborative manner that demonstrates democracy in the minute detail?  Am I saying that I like Web2.0 (blogs etc) because they minimally give me a neat place to store my thoughts and writings and a place where others can read them if they choose?

And having cleared my mind, I can get back to work, because work is like hoovering the carpet – it’s not much fun but the results are pleasant.

And for every moment I spend doing work that matters, I might be building a foundation for future solidarity.  And from there we might find solutions to build a Britain fit for the next 50 years.

So here ends my thoughts on where we are psychologically in making sense of the financial crisis using the well known heuristic of the grief cycle – denial/not us,anger/blame, depression/loss of direction, bargaining/magical thinking, action/affection.  The kernel of your good temper is Britain’s future.

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The hidden strength of a good friend in today’s shocking world

We live in times when there is plenty to shock us

I have an old-fashioned habit of switching on the radio to catch the news.  It really is a habit I must break because the quality gets more variable by the day.

Today, a little tired from a full Friday night’s work, I feel particularly jaundiced by gibberish that is put out by the (frankly) pale, male and stale – with a few opinionated women thrown in.  The ranting is pretty bad today because some people in the establishment have taken abrupt status drops and are feeling pretty sorry for themselves.  Some have been around bad things that would shock anyone.

And we find out who our friends are

It is in times like this though, that we really find out who our friends are.  Our friends don’t egg us on. Our friends don’t invite us into the public domain to rant and rave and say the incoherent and often unpleasant things we feel in the midst of grief and in the grip of chagrin.

We need our friends to lead us quietly away to grieve in private

Our friends lead us quietly away until we’ve had the chance to grieve with the people who are part of the same tragedy.  Our friends help us sort out what happened. Our friends help us to think out the consequences.  Our friends help us to work out what is dark, what is untimely, what is embarrassing, what is unfair, and what just is.  We don’t want to do that on the radio.

We can be sure that we adding negative consequences to negative consequences when we rant incoherently in public in our immediate shock.  Our friends should not let us.

Can I COUNT ON you?

In times like these, I hope I can COUNT ON YOU to lead me quietly away.  I hope I can COUNT ON YOU to put an arm around my shoulder.   I hope you can COUNT ON YOU  to make me a cup of tea and something easy to eat.  I hope I can COUNT ON YOU to listen but not remind me later of things I said but made no sense.

I will calm down but I hope I can COUNT ON YOU to give me time to make sense of outrage and not attack me while I am in that state nor make me into a public spectacle.

And if you were not to be COUNTED ON

And if it turns out that I COULD NOT count on you, and that you did not protect me when I could not protect myself, then I know you are not a friend.

I will not blame you for the outrage that led to my grief but I will know that you are not to be COUNTED UPON.

In times of shock, please

Lead me quietly away to deal with my outrage.  People who were not there and who were not part of the outrage will only see the jumble in my mind as incoherence.  Talking about my confusion in public doesn’t explain anything to them or give dignity to my predicament.

Lead me quietly away, put an arm around my shoulder and make me a cup of tea.

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Financial Crisis Watch: We are up to sulking?

Psychologists have a good 5 point rubric for understanding our reactions to grief, and anything unsettling.

First, we can’t take in the bad news.

Then, we get angry and look for someone to shout at.

When that doesn’t work, we sulk and bargain.

Failing again, we are confused, dejected and flail about without a plan.

Eventually, thankfully, we fall in love with life again.

Working, living and leading the bereaved

When we watch someone dealing with the death of a loved one, these stages are very clear.  Because the death is a fact, it is clear that they are having trouble absorbing the new reality into their life.  We do it easily because the person didn’t play such a big role in our lives and we have less to rearrange.  Our time will come.

Adjusting our identity

When the loss is something more nebulous, like our identity (not our credit cards but our sense of worth), then it is harder to see that someone is travelling a painful path. We just see someone who is being ill tempered, confused, difficult.

When the little boy asked Obama this week, “Why do people hate you?, Obama took great pains to explain to to the 9 year old the grief that his opponents feel in losing the election. He has the political maturity to understand why people are difficult and work with them anyway.

How long does it take to move through the grief cycle?

As a distant observer, I’ve been watching the underlying changes going in the States. Because I am not so close to the action, I watch dispassionately to see what is happening and to learn something that is not written up well in the psychological literature.

How long does it take for a population to adjust to stunning and inescapably bad news .   .   .  .  like Bank crashes, like the assumption of power by a new generation (Gen x)(if you are a Baby Boomer), by the invention of science we did not learn at school?

At lot has happened in the last two years.  When will we find our way out of the grief reaction?

2006 – We couldn’t believe that we were overspending.

2008 – Once Lehman crashed, we railed at irresponsible bankers.

2009 – We don’t want to work with the incoming President, redesign our banks, work with Nobel winning scientists even though they are already in the WhiteHouse.

When will we move into depression, and when will we fall back in love with life?

I suppose we must expect a period of depression and dejection soon.

And after that, we can get on with the job of using new developments in science, reaching out to other countries to build a new world order, include more people at home in the decision making and in the benefits of a strong economy, use the internet to make everything easier and work out the rules of a newer more respectful economy.

Sing and dance to the music of the recession!

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance & the financial crisis

Over the last one -and-a-quarter years, since the run on Northern Rock, I’ve been making a concerted effort to understand the credit crunch, the financial crisis and the recession.  The nature of understanding big, bad events is that we are so busy trying to understand them that we have little time to reflect.

Typically, we follow a five stage process.

  • First, we deny the crisis either saying “I’m OK – it doesn’t affect me” or conversely ranting “This can’t be happening.”
  • Then we move on to anger, when we are quite clear we are not to blame and that someone else such as politicians and bankers should be punished for getting us in to our mess.
  • When we are a bit further along, we work out what will stay the same in our lives and what we can can cut out.
  • The next stage is to resign ourselves to our mess dragging on for twenty years or so,  and we are actually secretly relieved because if the mess is that big, there is nothing you and I, ordinary Joe citizen, can do about it.
  • And eventually we begin to dig beneath the surface of the crisis and, in this case, set about upgrading our financial know-how and skills.

Where are you?  And where are the people around you?

My job as a psychologist

I have a page where I store good, accessible explanations of how we got into the financial crisis and I will expand it to include the financial know-how that you and I should have.

Being a psychologist though, I think it is my job to bring to your attention key psychological ideas that equip you for understanding the recession and the ways we react to it.

  • The first psychological idea in this post is described in the at the beginning.  We often respond to bad news in five rough stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  We go through these stages when we hear of the sudden death of a loved one.  And we are going through similar stages as we get our heads around the idea that our financial system has been subject to a the equivalent of a major earthquake.
  • The second psychological idea in this post is that objective knowledge matters.  Positive psychology emphasizes that our attitude to a problem makes a big difference.  It does, and I will return to that in other posts.   But objective information matters too.  It is foolish to pretend that a large box isn’t heavy.  We are much better off when we understand the principle of levers.  We do need to take charge of our education about the financial system.  We clearly did not understand it well enough to play our role as informed voters, wise buyers and sellers of stocks and shares, and savvy consumers of mortgages and credit cards.
  • The third psychological idea is the one I wanted to highlight today because I think it will be key to the mental housekeeping required to come to terms with the recession.

In the west, we have a weird idea that time is linear

Of course, we ‘know’ that yesterday was before today and today comes before tomorrow.  Unfortunately our separation of time into yesterday, today and tomorrow, has some peculiar side effects.   This works in two ways.

  • In good times, we spend like mad and rack up debt.   We take ‘Carpe Diem‘ or ‘seize the day’ far too far.   Tomorrow features insufficiently in our thinking about today, and when tomorrow comes, we are in a mess.
  • Equally, in bad times, we look ahead, see a diminished tomorrow, and we feel dejected.  In short, we bring tomorrow far too much into today.

This inability to act appropriately in time is an inability to ‘give unto Ceasar’ or to accept that ‘for everything there is a season’.  The net effect is that we enjoy life a lot less.  We also rack up unhealthy deficits and one day we wake up very disappointed with our lives and where we have taken ourselves.

And then we are into the five stage process I described at the outset. This cannot be happening. It is not my fault.  OK, I will compromise.  Oh, this is impossible.  And then ultimately: OK, I’d better get on and understand this.

Are you acquainted with philosopher Alan Watts?

At the end of this post is a video presentation, about 3 minutes long, that accompanies the late English philosopher, Alan Watts, talking about the way we confuse time.

He begins “you get into kindegarten, then you get into first grade  .  .   .”  And ends, life “was a musical thing and you were supposed to dance or sing while the music was being played”.

Do watch it!

I grew up in a competitive culture so this resonated with me.  I have long protested that we should let 3 year olds be 3, and 18 years olds be 18.  Preparing for the next year is part of a 3 year old’s experience but it is not all of their task.  And being 3 should never be dreary.  Nor should being 84!

Recessions are simply part of life

Like preparing for a test or examination, they are there to be enjoyed (!) along with all the other activities that come at the same stage.

It takes time to work through the five stages of our reaction to bad news.  And we work through at different paces.  So we need to be patient with ourselves and each other.  But we also do need to resolve not to become stuck at any stage.

We may be in for a long and difficult time in this financial crisis.  What I am suggesting is that we sing and dance to the music nonetheless!

Come with me!

Here is the link to this great presentation accompanying Alan Watts.  Do enjoy it and have a good weekend!  There is a season for everything!

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